The detention of LeT founder Hafiz Saeed and four aides was a “policy decision” in the national interest, the Pakistani military said on Tuesday as New Delhi called on Islamabad to do more by launching a “credible crackdown” on all groups involved in cross-border terror.
Saeed, for whom the US has offered a $10 million bounty, and his aides were placed in “preventive detention” late on Monday night. He is now being held at his home in Johar Town area of Lahore.
The detention came ahead of a deadline set by a financial task force for action on terror financing but no ban was imposed on the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), the group now led by Saeed, or its front organisation, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF). Both groups were only included in the Pakistan interior ministry’s “watch list”.
Pakistan’s chief military spokesman, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, told reporters Saeed’s detention was a “policy decision taken by the state in the national interest”. He deflected questions on whether Pakistan had acted under foreign pressure and whether there was any evidence linking Saeed to terror activities.
An unnamed official of Pakistan’s interior ministry told PTI: “The government has detained Saeed and four other JuD and FIF leaders for 90 days with effect from January 30 but this detention may further be extended on completion of this period if required.”
“The government may take some further steps against the JuD and its sister organisations in the coming days,” he said, adding that the names of several JuD and FIF activists had been included in the Exit Control List to bar them from leaving the country.
In New Delhi, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said India wanted Pakistan to do more to prove its sincerity about cracking down on terror.
“Exercises such as yesterday’s orders against Hafiz Saeed and others have been carried out by Pakistan in the past also. Only a credible crackdown on the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks and terrorist organisations involved in cross-border terrorism would be proof of Pakistan’s sincerity,” Swarup said.
India also wants the UN Security Council Resolution 1267’s provisions on proscription of terrorist entities and individuals to be effectively enforced, he added.
The others detained with Saeed are Abdullah Ubaid, Kashif Niaz, who is responsible for the JuD’s publications, and Zafar Iqbal and Abdur Rehman Abid, both from the group’s main base at Muridke on the outskirts of Lahore.
Media reports said the government decided to put JuD and FIF on the watch list and approved the freezing of their assets and cancelling of passports and arms licenses of their leaders to comply with the conditions of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Pakistan is bound to take these actions under UN Security Council Resolution 1267.
Pakistan is set to submit its compliance report on implementing money laundering laws to FATF on Tuesday, a pre-requisite for ensuring the country remains in the FATF’s “white list”, The News daily reported.
In case of non-compliance, Pakistan could have slipped into the FATF’s negative list for failing to counter terror financing.
Saeed was quick to blame pressure from India and the US for the action against him. He was allowed to address the media before being led away by police, and he claimed India was also angered by his support for the Kashmir issue.
“We declared 2017 the year of Kashmir and I held a press conference with Hurriyat leaders from Kashmir in Islamabad. India made a lot of noise about that and I was expecting there will be some pressure,” he said.
“I say with regret that this order for my house arrest has not come from Islamabad – this order has come here from Delhi and Washington.”
Contingents of police and other law enforcing agencies surrounded the JuD Centre at Chowburji.
Pakistani national flags were hoisted at JuD offices in Lahore, instead of the group’s black-and-white flags, on the directives of the Punjab home department, and police started removing the banners of JuD from the city roads. However, JuD offices in other cities were not affected by the latest developments.
Saeed’s supporters staged protests in several cities, including Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta.
On Monday, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters that his government had to fulfill its international obligations regarding groups such as JuD. He said the JuD was under the observation of the UN Security Council since 2010.
Observers said the move followed US pressure on the Nawaz Sharif government to act against terrorists. “There is mounting pressure on fears that America may take punitive action against Pakistan for its stance on organisations like the JuD,” said analyst Hasan Askari Zaidi.
This is not the first time Saeed has been placed under house arrest. Soon after the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, Pakistani authorities cracked down on the JuD and detained Saeed. Within six months, he was freed on the orders of the Lahore high court.